Bereaved families are having to wait to bury their deceased loved ones as a result of an ongoing strike by workers at Gauteng's Forensic Pathology Services. The Gauteng Health Department has engaged the services of the SANDF to deal with the backlog while talks with striking workers have deadlocked. By BHEKI C SIMELANE.
Forensic pathology officers have downed tools over salaries and working conditions within Gauteng’s Forensic Pathology service resulting in a backlog of some 200 autopsy and hundreds of families having to delay the burials of their deceased relatives.
The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa), which is representing the workers, said their demands related to the duties performed by forensic pathology officers, which they claim is over and above their scope of work. The duties the workers complained about doing include conducting certain postmortem processes ranging from the dissecting of bodies, the removal of organs, stitching of bodies and the preparation of the organs for investigation by pathologists. The union said that these were important duties that should be performed by trained forensic pathologists and if pathology officers were expected to do them they should receive the appropriate training and compensation.
This is the second time in six months that forensic pathology officers have embarked on strike action over similar demands. Then the department brought the strike to an end by securing a court order preventing workers from downing tools.
According to DA Gauteng shadow MEC for Health, Jack Bloom the impact of the current strike was being felt at at least four mortuaries – Diepkloof, Hillbrow, Germiston and Roodepoort.
Diepkloof mortuary was the worst affected, he said. “There were violent scenes there last Friday, with some doctors held hostage for a period of time,” Bloom claimed.
“This strike has caused incredible anguish to families of the deceased. This includes legal action that is being contemplated by Muslim families who are religiously required to bury the deceased on the day of death,” said Bloom.
Speaking to EWN, Ramokgopa said there were 200 post-mortems that needed to be done.
Timeslive reported that one of the families impacted by the strike may be that of Yizo Yizo actor Jabu Christopher Kubheka.
Ramokgopa said the department had engaged the South African National Defence Force’s health services to assist with the backlog.
Two security guards at the Diepkloof mortuary speaking to The Daily Maverick anonymously say they are having to comfort families who are arrive to collect bodies only to be turned away. These include a family from Lesotho who had arrived from that country to repatriate their relative’s body. According to the guards, a family from Soweto demanded their relative’s body and went so far as to pull it out of the fridge and leaving with it despite an autopsy not being done. In a statement, the Gauteng Health Department denied this claim.
In a statement on Friday, the department confirmed that Ramokgopa visited the Diepkloof mortuary to try and resolve the issue and to plead with the workers to return to work for the sake of the bereaved families.
These pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Spokesman for the department, Khutso Rabothata said in another statement this week that Ramokgopa had meet with various forensic pathology officers on Monday to try bring an end to the strike.
At the meeting the department re-affirmed its commitment to ensure:
“The Department will await the outcome of the National Collective Bargaining process on the issue of scope of practice and the relevant allowance requested by the FPOs. This is an intensive process that takes longer to finalise and it’s fitting that we provide pathology services whilst this process is being engaged,” he said, adding that the department had called on the workers to “resume Forensic Pathology Services so as to be sensitive to the bereaved families”.
Hospersa Public Relations Officer Kevin Halama said the union was actively engaging government on the matter.
“Hospersa is engaging the Government at provincial and at national level regarding some of the issues raised by our members. Government has requested more time to conduct its own investigations,” Halama said. DM
Photo: Selby Cindi, a forensic officer from Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services in Hillbrow , brings in the body of an accident victim. February, 2016. Photo: Alon Skuy/ The Times
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